Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 43, Issue 4, pp 794–806 | Cite as

The Modality Shift Experiment in Adults and Children with High Functioning Autism

  • Diane L. Williams
  • Gerald Goldstein
  • Nancy J. Minshew
Original Article


This study used the modality shift experiment, a relatively simple reaction time measure to visual and auditory stimuli, to examine attentional shifting within and across modalities in 33 children and 42 adults with high-functioning autism as compared to matched numbers of age- and ability-matched typical controls. An exaggerated “modality shift effect” relative to the TD children occurred for the children with autism in conditions involving the reaction time when shifting from sound to light but not from light to sound. No exaggerated MSE was found for the adults with autism; rather, their responses were characterized by a generalized slowness relative to the adults with TD. These results suggest a lag in maturational development in autism in basic information processing mechanisms.


Autism Attentional shifting Speed of processing Perceptual development 



This work was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) [grant number NS33355]; the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) [HD35469, a Collaborative Program of Excellence in Autism (CPEA), to N.J.M.]; the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [HD055748, an Autism Center of Excellence, to N.J.M.]; and, the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) [K23DC006691 to D.L.W.]. The Medical Research Service, Department of Veterans Affairs is also acknowledged for support of this research. The authors are grateful to the participants and their families who generously gave of their time for this research.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Diane L. Williams
    • 1
  • Gerald Goldstein
    • 2
  • Nancy J. Minshew
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Speech-Language PathologyDuquesne UniversityPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System and Department of PsychiatryUniversity of Pittsburgh School of MedicinePittsburghUSA
  3. 3.Departments of Psychiatry and NeurologyUniversity of Pittsburgh School of MedicinePittsburghUSA

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